Simplicity and learning transfer

I found a lesson one Saturday last summer, but the learning didn’t crystallize until two days ago.  The Greek Orthodox Church in Beaverton held their annual festival on a day when I was in Portland helping Linda set up for dye workshop.  Helping her leaves me free to roam in the cIcons, screen and carvingity or its surroundings during the middle of the day.

I went to the Greek festival for the food and dancing, but there found the booth where the Orthodox clerics explained their faith.  One of their deacons, named Innocent in the church, was open to drawing contrasts with my faith.  We spoke for fifteen or twenty minutes.  He mentioned that he’d be giving a tour of their meeting room and a talk on their form of worship later.

With bells on, I came early for the tour.  I didn’t need to bring the bells, they had some there.  Not only bells, but smells.  I noticed the incense as I walked through the door.  And pictures–lots of them.  In a flat two dimensional style with vibrant colors.  The iconographer in the lobby had told me a bit about the training and apprenticeship that qualified her to do this work.  She did it with great care and prayer.  Elaborate woodwork.  Choral music–a capella, but in a distinct style with four parts.  Innocent explained that all of this was very carefully done to bring worshipers into God’s presence and out of the ordinary world we inhabit through the week.

This morning, dozens of yStillwater Friends Meeting houseears after learning that Quakerism doesn’t try to make those contrasts and several months after the smells, sights and explication of the Orthodox worship room, I came to understand why Friends keep our meeting places simple.  Friends want to maximize the similarity between sacred and profane, between worship and work in order to facilitate transfer of the skills and habits we learn in worship.  We don’t want the meeting house to be much different from our homes and our work places, because we don’t want our attitudes to be much different as we move through the week.

The home, the office, the classroom, the barn and the meeting house are all places to meet with God.  Why should we set up the meeting house to look or feel different from anywhere else we find ourselves?